NEW BEDFORD- Buttonwood Park Zoo is opening its newest wildlife exhibit to the public this coming Saturday. The Rainforests, Rivers, and Reefs exhibit is now home to threatened and endangered animals and sea creatures from across the globe in a conservation effort.

The newest exhibit to open at the zoo in almost two decades, the entire building had to be redeveloped and updated to efficiently provide the appropriate habitat for the wildlife moving in.

The opening of the Rainforests, Rivers, and Reefs exhibit is just the beginning of a major, $25-million redevelopment plan for the zoo, expected to take anywhere from 12 to 15 years to complete.

The new exhibit was made possible by a grant provided by the Robert F. Stoico/FIRSTFED Charitable Foundation. Paula Montgomery, Director of Community Engagement for Buttonwood Park Zoo, says that the same approach will be taken to fund zoo projects scheduled in the future.

“It is a 12-15 year redevelopment plan with about a $25-million price-tag for that redevelopment," she said. "So we’re certainly looking into a lot of private foundations and public grants that will help us in the redevelopment of Buttonwood Park Zoo.”

A tour of the newly finished building was provided to media members this morning, with a formal VIP reception and ribbon cutting ceremony to take place tonight for project donors and elected officials. Members of the zoo will be provided private-access to the exhibit until 7:00 PM Friday night. It officially opens to the public on Saturday morning from 9:00 AM through 5:00 PM.

Director of Buttonwood Park Zoo, Keith Lovett, explained that conservation is the primary focus for not only Buttonwood, by other major zoos across the country as well.

“The major focus of the Buttonwood Park Zoo, and truthfully most major zoos in the country and most accredited zoos in the country, is the conservation of threatened and endangered species,” Lovett said.

“It has a great mission focused on conservation education in the protection of threatened and endangered species.”

Several endangered species ranging from small monkeys and parrots to octopus and jellyfish have been moved into the exhibit, which primarily features sea life from the Indo-Pacific and land animals from South America.

“A lot of the emphasis on the habitats created in this building is to provide these amazing homes for these endangered and threatened species throughout the world,” said Lovett.

Director of Buttonwood Park Zoo, Keith Lovett, presents the exhibit to media members. Tim Dunn/TSM

Lovett also says that he expects the exhibit to impress, even the zoo’s harshest critics that tend to be made up of animal-rights activists. His stance being that the conservation approach the zoo is taking, would be hard for activists to criticize.

“I think most people will be very impressed, even our harshest critics, with how much emphasis we have put into creating great homes for these animals here at the zoo," he said.

A formal VIP reception ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held tonight for project donors and elected officials. Friday night will allow members of Buttonwood Park Zoo private access to the exhibit until 7:00 PM.

The zoo will officially open the Rainforests, Rivers, and Reefs exhibit doors to the public on Saturday morning from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM.